OCC’s Aerospace Scholars

OCC’s Nathan Burroughs leads his team through an activity at the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

The NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program was everything three Onondaga Community College students could have hoped for, and then some. “The whole experience was super rewarding. It was really cool to see so many people who were passionate about what they were doing,” said Nathan Burroughs (Homer HS, 2016).

OCC’s Rebecca Agosto Matos (left) is pictured with her NASA mentor.

Burroughs, Wayne Ennis (Corcoran HS, 2007), and Rebecca Agosto Matos (East Syracuse Minoa 2017) were members of a select group of community college students chosen to visit NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia April 14 to 17. Their adventure began much earlier in the semester when they participated in a related five-week online activity. “The time we needed to commit was definitely worth the experience on the back end,” said Ennis. “To complete the work in advance you have to have persistence,” added Dr. Fred Jaquin, a Chemistry and Physical Science Professor at OCC who oversees the NASA program on campus. “You have to have a schedule and get things done on time. You have to be committed.”

Students were put to work the moment they arrived at the Langley Research Center. They were divided into teams of 10 and no group contained students from the same college. Each team was assigned a mentor who was a NASA employee. “We were handed a box of parts and had five or six hours to build a robot. Ready? Set? Go! There was a competition at the end of the day and in the middle of the day we had to take a break and go on a tour,” said Burroughs. “The first day was stressful but we worked together and got through it,” added Matos. “It was fun. We worked through it and everything went very well,” said Ennis.

OCC student Wayne Ennis (sitting in green shirt) works with his team.

Throughout their time at Langley the students had several opportunities to interact with NASA professionals and learn from them. “I thought most of the people at NASA would have a masters or Ph.D. There were people there who had associate and bachelor’s degrees too. It was open to people from all different levels,” said Matos. “We had a talk with the Deputy Director of the Langley facility and he said he had been there 20 years which was about half of the normal career at NASA. Usually people retire after 40, 50, 60 years because they’re so passionate about what they do. It just blew me away,” added Ennis.

All three students are in their final semester at OCC and all agree the NASA experience reaffirmed they are on the right academic path. “I always knew I wanted to be a Mechanical Engineer. Going there solidified it for me,” said Burroughs. “This gave me more motivation to pursue my major. Our mentor was a Mechanical Engineer who was researching friction to understand more about launching spacecraft. It’s something I had never considered as a career,” added Ennis who is a Engineering Science major. “I’m a Mathematics & Science major. After I transfer, I’d like to backtrack credits and get an Engineering Science degree from here,” said Matos who hopes to attend Cornell in the fall.

NASA will host another Community College Aerospace Scholars program in the fall. Students interested in participating should contact Professor Jaquin at jaquinr@sunyocc.edu. “It’s a great opportunity for students. In the next 10 years we’re going to be back on the moon. There’s going to be a lot of work in engineering and aerospace. There’s a lot of terrestrial work NASA does. They do a lot of satellite data analysis and lower level flight analysis and atmospheric sampling. There are and will be a lot of job opportunities,” said Jaquin.

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Alex Pompo

Alex Pompo graduated from West Genesee High School in 2012 and decided to leave home to attend a four-year college. When he discovered it wasn’t the right fit for him, he returned to the area and found exactly what he was looking for at OCC. Pompo has excelled in his year on campus. He’s an Engineering Science major and a member of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. He was voted the organization’s Vice President for Scholarship. “I appreciate the class sizes here. It’s much different when you are in a lecture hall with more than 100 students and you can never get in touch with your professor.”

Pompo’s career goal is to work in the aerospace industry. He’ll be getting a first-hand look at how the industry works in October when he represents OCC in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars Program. He was the only student in all of New York State to be selected to take part in the nationwide competition. Pompo will spend three days at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama working side-by-side with NASA Engineers. “I’m very excited about going,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for me.”

NASA Aerospace Scholar

Alex Pompo’s career goal is to work in the aerospace industry. He’ll be getting a first-hand look at how the industry works in October when he represents OCC in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars Program. The Engineering Science major was selected to attend as part of a nationwide competition. He will spend three days at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama working side-by-side with NASA Engineers. “I’m very excited about going,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for me.”

Pompo’s selection continues the tradition of OCC being well represented in the competition. Since 2012 NASA has chosen 257 Aerospace Scholars nationwide including 14 from New York State. Eight of those 14 students have come from OCC. Dr. Fred Jaquin is Chair of the College’s Chemistry and Physical Science department. He tells students about the program and encourages them to take part. “Our students are competing and winning in this nationwide contest,” he said. “Their accomplishments are tremendous.”

In October Pompo will be OCC’s latest participant and New York State’s lone representative. He’s a 2012 graduate of West Genesee High School who initially attended a four-year college before deciding to come to OCC. “I appreciate the small class sizes here. It’s much different when you are in a lecture hall with more than 100 students and you can never get in touch with your professor.”

Pompo is a member of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa and was voted the organization’s Vice President for Scholarship this semester. He plans to graduate from OCC in 2016.